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Civil War - Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)
Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)

With the exception of a fragile peace established by negotiations between southern Sudanese insurgents (the Anya Nya) and the Sudan government at Addis Ababa in 1972, and lasting until the resumption of the conflict in 1983, southern Sudan was a battlefield prior to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord [CPA]. The north-south distinction and the hostility between the two regions of Sudan is grounded in religious conflict as well as a conflict between peoples of differing culture and language. The language and culture of the north are based on Arabic and the Islamic faith, whereas the south has its own diverse, mostly non-Arabic languages and cultures -- with few exceptions non-Muslim, and its religious character was indigenous (traditional or Christian).

The origins of the civil war in the south date back to the 1950s. On August 18, 1955, the Equatoria Corps, a military unit composed of southerners, mutinied at Torit. Rather than surrender to Sudanese government authorities, many mutineers disappeared into hiding with their weapons, marking the beginning of the first war in southern Sudan. By the late 1960s, the war had resulted in the deaths of about 500,000 people. Several hundred thousand more southerners hid in the forests or escaped to refugee camps in neighboring countries. By 1969 the rebels had developed foreign contacts to obtain weapons and supplies. Israel, for example, trained Anya Nya recruits and shipped weapons via Ethiopia and Uganda to the rebels. Anya Nya also purchased arms from Congolese rebels. Government operations against the rebels declined after the 1969 coup, and ended with the Addis Ababa accords of 1972 which guaranteed autonomy for the southern region.

The civil war resumed in 1983 when President Nimeiri imposed Shari'a law, and has resulted in the death of more than 1.5 million Sudanese since through 1997. The principal insurgent faction is the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a body created by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

The SPLA was formed in 1983 when Lieutenant Colonel John Garang of the SPAF was sent to quell a mutiny in Bor of 500 southern troops who were resisting orders to be rotated to the north. Instead of ending the mutiny, Garang encouraged mutinies in other garrisons and set himself at the head of the rebellion against the Khartoum government. Garang, a Dinka born into a Christian family, had studied at Grinnell College, Iowa, and later returned to the United States to take a company commanders' course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and again to earn advanced economics degrees at Iowa State University.

Most of its early members were ethnic Dinka, and until the late 1980s most recruits into its SPLA were of Dinka origin. The SPLM was strongest where the largest number of Dinka resided, that is, in Aali an Nil and Bahr al Ghazal. Both Nimeiri and Sadiq al Mahdi had tried to exploit historical ethnic tensions between the Dinka and other groups, such as the Nuer and Azande, as part of the effort to contain the spread of the civil war. Khartoum, however, tended to view all non-Muslims in the south as the same, and indiscriminately bombed non-Dinka towns and armed the Arab militias that massacred civilians. The human rights group, Africa Watch, reported in 1990 that the kidnapping, hostage-taking, and other activities by militias in the south approached a reemergence of slavery. The effect of RCC-NS policies was to strengthen the appeal of the SPLM in non-Dinka areas, particularly the Azande territory of western Al Istiwai. By 1991 almost one-half of the SPLA forces were non-Dinka, although most of the higher-ranking officers remained Dinka.

By 1986 the SPLA was estimated to have 12,500 adherents organized into twelve battalions and equipped with small arms and a few mortars. Recruits were trained across the border in Ethiopia, probably with the help of Ethiopian army officers. By 1989 the SPLA's strength had reached 20,000 to 30,000; by 1991 it was estimated at 50,000 to 60,000. Many members of the SPLA continued their civilian occupations, serving in individual campaigns when called upon. At least forty battalions had been formed, bearing such names as Tiger, Crocodile, Fire, Nile, Kalishnikov, Bee, Eagle, and Hippo.

In addition to Garang, who as commander in chief adopted the rank of colonel, other senior officers included a field commander, a chief of staff, and a chief of staff for administration and logistics. Most of these officers, as well as zonal commanders, held the rank of lieutenant colonel, while battalion commanders were majors or captains. Promotion was based on seniority and the number of battles fought. Consequently, most of the senior leadership and field commanders were members of the Dinka group. Others were from the Nuer and Shilluk groups. Members of some other groups from Al Istiwai were given commands to help win over members of their groups.

The SPLA claimed that its arms came from captured government stocks or were brought by troops deserting from the SPAF. It admitted to having received a considerable amount of support and matériel from Libya before 1985 because of Libya's hostility toward Nimeiri and its desire to see him overthrown. It denied receiving arms from Ethiopia, although it operated from bases in Ethiopia, and outside observers believed that that country furnished the bulk of the SPLA's weaponry. The government's claims that the SPLA had Israeli advisers and received equipment from Israel were generally discounted. Its small arms included Soviet, United States, and German assault rifles. According to The Military Balance, 1991-92, the SPLA also had 60mm mortars, 14.5mm antiaircraft guns, and Soviet SA-7 shoulder-fired SAMs. Other sources claimed that the SPLA had captured or otherwise acquired howitzers, heavier mortars, BM-21 truckmounted rocket launchers, jeep-mounted 106mm antitank recoilless rifles, and about twenty armored vehicles. It had a supply of land mines that were widely used.

Since 1983, the SPLA was divided into 3 main factions: the SPLA Torit faction led by John Garang; the SPLA Bahr-al-Ghazal faction led by Carabino Kuany Bol; and the South Sudan Independence Movement led by Rick Machar. These internal divisions intensified fighting in the south, hampering any potential peace settlement. The SPLA remained the principal military force in the insurgency.

In April 1997 the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A), which broke away from the SPLA, and several smaller southern factions concluded a peace agreement with the Government. These former insurgent elements then formed the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF). However, the SPLM, its armed wing, the SPLM/A, and most independent analysts have regarded the April 21 Agreement as a tactical government effort to enlist southerners on its side. The SPLM/A and its northern allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) carried out successful military offensives in areas along the borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea and in large parts of the south during the year. Neither side appears to have the ability to win the war militarily.

In 1996 the US government decided to send nearly $20 million of military equipment through the 'front-line' states of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda to help the Sudanese opposition overthrow the Khartoum regime. US officials denied that the military aid for the SPLA and the Sudanese Allied Forces (SAF), described as 'non-lethal' -- including radios, uniforms, boots and tents -- was targeted at Sudan. The Pentagon and CIA considered Sudan to be second only to Iran as a staging ground for international terrorism. CIA Director John Deutch made a 3-day visit to the Ethiopian capital in April 1996, where he noted that funds had been significantly increased for a more activist policy including preemptive strikes against terrorists and their sponsors. Reportedly several Operational Detachments-Alpha (also called A-Teams) of the US army were operating in support of the SPLA.

Many opposition Sudanese factions outside Sudan welcomed the 26 February 2002 merger decision between the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, led by John Garang, and the forces of Sudan National Alliance [SNA] led by Rtd Brig-Gen Abd-al-Aziz Khalid into a one political organization.

On 27 July 2002 Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir met for the first time with John Garang, the leader of the country's southern rebel movement. The meeting took place in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, one week after government officials and rebels agreed on a framework for talks to end Sudan's 19-year-old civil war. Observers called it a historic moment, signaling another step toward ending a bitter 19-year conflict that has pitted the northern Islamist government against rebels in the south, where people practice mainly Christianity and traditional religions. President al-Bashir and Mr. Garang's meeting followed five weeks of talks in Kenya in which both sides agreed to enter negotiations next month to end the war. The framework agreement signed by government officials and rebels in Kenya on July 20th calls for Sudan's constitution to be rewritten so that the Islamic law, Sharia, will not be applied to non-Muslims in the south. It also calls for a referendum to be held in six years' time to determine whether the south should remain a part of Sudan or gain its independence.

Talks focused on issues that include the integration of rebel leaders into the government, organizing a cease-fire, human rights and the sharing of Sudan's oil wealth. The new moves toward ending the war in Sudan came after the United States intensified pressure on both sides to make peace.

Hopes for peace in Sudan were raised following the breakthrough made at the first round of Machakos talks on 20 July 2002 under the auspices of the Inter-governmental Authority on Regional Development (IGAD), chaired by Kenya. At that time, the government agreed that the south could hold a referendum on secession after a six-year interim period, and could be exempted from Islamic Sharia law. Those are both key issues for the rebels. The Machakos Protocol, signed between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, represented an agreement on a broad framework on principles of governance, as well as procedures for a transitional process. As part of the Protocol, the Parties reached agreement on the right to self-determination for the people of south Sudan.

The Sudanese government and rebels signed at least a partial cease-fire agreement when peace talks re-open in Kenya in late October 2002. Fighting continued during previous rounds of the peace talks, which are taking place in the Kenyan town of Machakos, under the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development. The Sudanese government broke off the talks in September 2002 after the rebels captured the strategically important southern garrison town of Torit. The government recaptured Torit after two weeks of heavy fighting. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told a victory rally that peace-talks could resume. But he said a cease-fire would not apply to areas of eastern Sudan that were recently taken by rebel forces. The US House of Representatives introduced a bill to sanction Sudan if its government does not negotiate in good faith with the rebels. President Bashir said he was not shaken by such threats.

The transitional military agreement was signed in late September 2003 in Naivasha, Kenya, between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). It dealt with the status of the two forces and arrangements for their integration. An internationally monitored ceasefire will come into effect from the date of a comprehensive peace agreement. It also forbids the use of the Government's and the former secessionist armies to maintain domestic law and order, except in certain emergencies.

As of late 2003 the biggest stumbling block involved the three disputed territories: Abyei, Nuba Mountains and the South Blue Nile. All three have substantial oil or water resources and are claimed by both the north and south. In 1972 Abyei actually had been granted a referendum on whether to join the north or south, but it was never implemented. The discovery of oil reserves in the area since then has complicated matters.

On 28 November 2003 the government of Sudan and the country's main rebel group agreed to extend their cease-fire for another two months, pending the negotiation of a peace agreement. The Kenyan mediator of the Sudanese peace talks, retired General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, says the cease-fire extension will enable the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army to conclude their peace talks. The cease-fire has been extended before - usually for a six-month period - since the two sides began peace negotiations more than a year earlier. General Sumbeiywo says the two-month extension period shows that the two sides are close to a peace agreement.

The conflict in Sudan had killed two-million people, by some estimates, mainly as a result of famine induced by the war. Humanitarian organizations estimate that 4 million Sudanese have been displaced internally or have been forced to leave the country, Africa's largest, because of the long-running factional conflict. As many of the 1 million civilians affected by the conflict remain beyond the reach of relief workers due to continuing violence.

The issues still in dispute were how Sudanese revenues, including the country's growing oil income, are to be shared by the parties, and the status of three regions claimed by both sides in the conflict, the Nuba Mountains, Abyei, and the Southern Blue Nile. the rebels have already reached agreement on security arrangements, but have yet to determine whether the capital city, Khartoum, should be ruled by Islamic or secular law. The two sides hoped to reach a framework agreement by December 19th, when the current round of talks was scheduled to end.

Some accused Sudan of supporting the Lord's Resistance Army [LRA] because Uganda allegedly supports the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the rebel movement fighting against the Sudan government. Sudanese officials have denied supporting the LRA. However, relations between the two countries have improved in recent years. In 1999, Sudan and Uganda signed an agreement under which Sudan said it would stop aiding the LRA and Uganda would stop aiding the SPLA. In February 2003 Sudan agreed to let troops from neighboring Uganda enter its territory to attack the LRA rebels who had been trying for years to overthrow the Ugandan government.

The government ended the civil war with the South in January 2005 by signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the SPLA and its political arm, the Sudan People‘s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The pact established a power-sharing government in Khartoum between the SPLM and the NCP, granted autonomy to a Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) led by the SPLM, and allowed for a referendum on Southern independence to be held after a six-year transitional period in 2011.

John Garang, who had survived assassination attempts and violent splits in his rebel movement during a civil war, died in peacetime, the victim of a helicopter crash on July 30, 2005. Garang led the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), representing mainly Christians and animists, in a 22-year independence struggle against the Arab Muslim-dominated Khartoum government in the North. He had studied in the United States, earning a doctorate in agricultural economics. Garang's widw, Rebecca Garang, did not accept the findings of the investigation into her husband's death, which ruled it pilot error. She believes her husband was murdered and called for an expanded investigation. She would not accept any result other than the identification of her husband's killers. She said that foul play is the only explanation for the fact that the pilots did not turn back when her husband expressed concern, as heard on the black box. She also said the satellite photos of the crash site showed extra bodies, that the pilots may have committed suicide, and that increased chatter among Libyans and Egyptians, including Egyptian calls on the death before it was announced, indicate a wider conspiracy.

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Page last modified: 06-01-2014 19:20:02 ZULU